Photo: Jim Bush
JoAnn Falletta talks with John Clare in July 2010 about the story behind the Tyberg recordings, the BPOs 75th anniversary, and the importance of recording to the artistic development of the orchestra
JoAnn Falletta on the Buffalo Philharmonic
By Zach Carstensen
Sunday, February 15th, 2009 at 7:11pm
I was fortunate to be able to sit down with Maestra Falletta this weekend. Falletta has been in Seattle this past week for a series of three concerts with the Seattle Symphony. During my conversation with Falletta, I couldnt help but walk away feeling like she is a musician possessed by great joy in not only making music, but helping people genuinely value, feel, and experience serious music. We talked about her impressions of the Seattle Symphony, what considerations go into concert programs, the importance of the Buffalo Philharmonic as a professional orchestra in a city decimated by the collapse of the steel and manufacturing industry in the United States, and how music is innate to our existence as people. Toward the end of the interview, we also chatted briefly about her Grammy Award winning recording of Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.
More Info About Mr. Tambourine Man
JoAnns February 2009 radio interview with David Osenberg, host of
Seven minutes of music and introduction preceed the interview.
Excerpts from an interview with Bill Angus, originally published by Niagara Frontier Publications.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and grew up in Queens, New York. Thats where I spent most of my youth.
Which schools did you attend?
I received my undergraduate degree from the Mannes School of Music in New York and my masters and doctorate degrees from The Juilliard School.
Since the age of seven, I always knew I was going to be a musician. Thats when I started studying music. I guess it was one of those things that just resonated with me immediately. Frankly, I cant remember a time when I didnt think of myself as a musician. I just knew that it was for me.
What was your first instrument?
Classical guitar. That instrument has remained very close to me.
Who inspired you the most in your career?
My parents, John and Mary Falletta, who were not musicians, were great music lovers. They opened the door for my musical experience by frequently taking me to concerts. I think it was basically being at concerts that really cemented my love of music. I fell in love with the symphony orchestra and with the idea of people playing together, making music together. That was, to me, magical. I think that was my major influence. As I started to study, especially conducting, my teachers then became the chief influences in my life. Of course, as a conductor, I have to say one of the main influences on any American musician was Leonard Bernstein. He was the best known, the most beloved, the most American of American musicians and, of course, as an aspiring conductor and a conductor, I found him very inspiring. I had the chance to work with him quite a bit at Juilliard because he would come and give masters classes for us. I found him a great inspiration. But I would not have succeeded without my parents support and their belief in me. As worried as they were about a professional musician career, they were very, very supportive. My husband, Robert, who is also a wonderful musician, has always been there for me.
I have to remark that in your performances you are always smiling, you must be really enjoying yourself.
Yes, its true. Music is such a thrilling experience, even when the music is very serious and everyone is working very hard. There is something about the energy force, the tremendous sense of energy and commitment that you get from the musicians. Its a thrilling feeling, being in the middle of all that commitment and dedication. Frankly its very beautiful.
It means the person who chooses the works that are on the concert program. We are constantly rediscovering new works, so I always believe in mixing in the unfamiliar with the familiar, the old and the new, and that to me is what makes a good program, something thats very eclectic. Thats been my mantra.
Do you spend time researching old works then?
Oh yes, looking at scores, looking at new pieces. Trying to find old pieces that people dont know and, of course, mixing in the beloved standards as well.
Have you made any unusual discoveries of lost works?
In some cases, yes. I worked with the Womens Philharmonic in San Francisco for 10 years when I was still a student. Thats an orchestra that rediscovered music by women of the past that had never been played. People whose music had just been locked in a trunk or a drawer. We unearthed a lot of that. Its an adventure looking for and finding new pieces, whether old or new; finding pieces that people might not know. I tend to think of music a little bit like an iceberg. We keep playing the tip of the iceberg that we can see. We keep playing those wonderful pieces we know, but underneath is a vast reservoir of wonderful pieces that I like to introduce to our audiences.
You appear to have turned around the BPOs budget problems. How have you achieved this?
Were getting more funding but frankly we owe it to the people of Western New York who have valued the philharmonic and have always felt that it is an important part of our cultural life in this region. Theyve taken care of us in some very difficult times, not only in these past two years. The community has really believed in us and we owe a great debt to the people of Western New York. The corporations here have been extremely generous.
Yo-Yo Ma to me is the epitome of a musical spirit that is extraordinary. Not only is he a great musician, but also he is passionate about what he does and he is a person who cares deeply and sincerely for people.
Do you have a favorite composer?
Mozart really is my favorite composer, but I dont have a favorite piece.
You conduct two orchestras during the same season: the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Virginia Symphony. How do you manage that?
We plan it out very far in advance. Basically, I go back and forth all the time. I may do two weeks in Buffalo, then one week in Virginia, then back to Buffalo. Its a little bit of traveling, but its very stimulating. A lot of conductors work with two different orchestras. When Im not in Buffalo there is usually a pops concert going on or my wonderful associate, Ron Spigelman, conducts some of the concerts when Im not here. It works out very well.
How many recordings have you released in your career?
Myself, about 30. Thats with different orchestras.
It must make you feel good to actually see the completed work?
Oh yes! And when you hear it played on a radio station, its really wonderful.
Youve conducted so many orchestras, but it had to be a special thrill when you became the first woman in its
Youre right, its one of the most prestigious orchestras with a wonderful history and it was an orchestra that was just opening up to women.
I think the image of a conductor in the past was one of an autocrat, someone who would hire and fire people at will, yell at people and throw temper tantrums. That kind of leadership from a woman was not really comfortable in the past. Today, of course, conductors work in a different way. Were not generally like that anymore and I think the door has opened up for women. In the past it was much more of a tyrannical image that a conductor had and that didnt really fit with women. The field is changing slowly and I think well see more women in the future.
Do you recall your most memorable performance; not maybe your best, but the one that when you were done you felt, that was great?
For me, one of the most memorable was to conduct the Virginia Symphony at Carnegie Hall for the first time in 1997. That was a very special event for me, to bring my own orchestra to Carnegie Hall. I think it will be wonderful now to be able to do it with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Its going to be a special day.
Is there a person youve enjoyed working with the most?
Ive got to tell you that working with musicians is always a great pleasure. With all the orchestras that Ive worked with as music director, Ive loved working with all the talented musicians who are all very interesting people. I cant really pick out even a handful of them, theyve all been wonderful.
Why is the BPO important to the community?
The BPO is a reflection of how we value life and the complexity and the many facets of life in our community. Just as we need the Buffalo Bills, just as we need wonderful restaurants or great schools, we need an orchestra that can serve as a cultural resource, as a source of great inspiration, pleasure, entertainment and education. Just as we preserve visual art in museums or dance, an orchestra is a reflection of society, of the past and present. Music has a way of touching people even without words.
Describe yourself in one word.
Curiouseager for experiences.